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The Night Hag’s Heartstone is described as:

All night hags carry a periapt known as a heartstone, which instantly cures any disease contracted by the holder. In addition, a heartstone provides a +2 resistance bonus on all saving throws (this bonus is included in the statistics block). A night hag that loses this charm can no longer use etherealness until it can manufacture another (which takes one month). Creatures other than the hag can benefit from the heartstone’s powers, but the periapt shatters after ten uses (any disease cured or saving throw affected counts as a use) and it does not bestow etherealness to a bearer that is not a night hag. If sold, an intact heartstone brings 1,800 gp.

We notice that the description says “can” benefit. This seems to suggest the user has a choice. The further addition of the word “uses” also seems to support that the user “can” “use” the object.

When carrying the Heartstone - does it force every saving throw to be at +2 and burn a charge or is it optional?

If it is optional, can the bonus be applied after the roll or does it have to be applied before the roll?

Note: It appears that our DM used the 3.5e version instead of the 5e description so that helps clarify part of the confusion. We have revised this to cover the 3.5e to make it a viable question that may serve others.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That description appears to be for the 3.5e item. There is no such description for the 5e item in the Monster Manual. All it says about it in the MM (and on Roll20) is this: "Heartstone. This lustrous black gem allows a night hag to become ethereal while it is in her possession. The touch of a heartstone also cures any disease. Crafting a heartstone takes 30 days." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 21 '18 at 7:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ And, listed among the Night Hag's (roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Night%20Hag) actions: "Etherealness. The hag magically enters the Ethereal Plane from the Material Plane, or vice versa. To do so, the hag must have a heartstone in her possession." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 21 '18 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ And, while we're here, relevant Sage Advice from Jeremy Crawford (sageadvice.eu/2015/11/14/night-hags-heartstone): "A heartstone is meant to work only for a hag, but a DM can rule otherwise." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 21 '18 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm closing this as unclear to seek some clarification: Did you mean to reference a D&D 3.5e item? And did you mean to tag this question as D&D 5e, indicating you're exploring its rules implications in a D&D 5e context? Tags are meant to describe question content, and we skip out on needing to say "I'm playing game X" for system tags when it's clear enough... but it isn't clear right now what's going on here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 21 '18 at 11:49
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Unfortunately, it's not optional. If you're carrying a heartstone, any saving throw you make gets the bonus and takes one of your uses.

In addition, a heartstone provides a +2 resistance bonus on all saving throws (this bonus is included in the statistics block).

The heartstone provides a bonus to all saving throws, not "any saving throw you choose", or anything else that would give you a choice in the matter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Of note, we noticed that the description says “can” benefit. This seems to suggest the user has a choice. The further addition of the word “uses” also seems to support that the user “can” “use” the object. \$\endgroup\$ – Praxiteles Feb 21 '18 at 6:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Replacing 'can benefit' with 'also benefit' might make that sentence clearer. I feel like it is trying to say that other users are also able to benefit from the heartstone, not that the users may choose to benefit when they please. The first two sentences of the paragraph imply the bonus is automatic. \$\endgroup\$ – Tenryu Feb 21 '18 at 6:12
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The poor little misunderstood word can lies at the heart of this question.

At its most basic can means has the ability/permission to - it does not say anything about whether the possessor of that ability has a choice in the matter.

For example, “You can breathe” - do you think you have a choice about if you will or won’t?

Contrast can with may which does grant the option or must which denies any option.

To find out if the exercise of the ability is optional or not you have to look at the context. In the particular case the abilities of the heartstone are always “on” - there is no option for the hag so there is no option for you.

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